Friday, April 8, 2011

Notes on the Run - "Forces of Nature"

*Note: A piece I wrote for the April Issue of Robious Corridor Magazine.  With a few edits.

I don’t know what it is about spring that makes me become so aware of nature. Summer comes and plants grow quickly or whither in the summer sun. In Autumn, the days shorten and the trees take their cue and drop their leaves.   I’ve been through hurricane Isabel and remember feeling helpless against Mother Nature’s ultimate hissy fit and bad air day. Trees looked like a tangle of pixie sticks all over Salisbury. We get the occasional snowfall in Richmond, and on rare occasion an accumulation that causes everything slowdown and we have no choice but to go into a naturally-enforced time out. But for the most part, I tend not to be overly aware of nature. Until spring. I’m aware of it so much in my morning runs – most of which are in the dark. The first portent of the vernal equinox is the faint glow of dawn in the sky coming earlier and earlier each morning. It’s the raw scent of the warming earth and the sight of the daffodils ready for their seasonal debut. Recently at mile 14 of a long run, when my legs were tired and my fun meter near zero, I saw the first blooming tree of the season and those few simple blossoms of purple gave me a lift that carried me through the end of the run.

You can smell spring in the air. It’s the warming of the ground, the damp earthy smell that signals the awaking of it all. The bulbs push through the ground, flowers crack open the husks. Hibernating animals begin their sluggish awakening. I drive past Keswick farms and see the spring lambs. Spring is so restless, so relentless. Mother Nature is like that.  

I think of spring as this quiet awakening – the gentle warming, the patient progress of the plants, the minute or two of extra sunlight as the days pass.   I love the feeling of rebirth after the months of light-deprived sacrifice. It’s the needing only a sweater instead of a jacket, and then short sleeves instead of long. Picking up my son after lacrosse practice and not turning on the car’s headlights. Cooking dinner and still having the sunlight lighting up the kitchen. It feels like renewal, like the real promise and start to the new year.

It’s a morning at the beginning of March. Spring is a couple of weeks away and it’s just a weekend before Daylight Savings time. The sun is coming up earlier every day. I finish the run with my friends and need to run a few more miles on my own. The sky is clear and it is so quiet out but for the raucous singing of the birds. I think they’re welcoming the warming air and the change in the light that makes them start building nests. There is a pair of red finches nesting in the spotlights at the corner of my house. They define the term “spring into action” and think about the irony of the phrase. In a couple of weeks I’ll be stocking up on Swiffers to tackle the yellow-green pollen that will have invaded every crevice of the house, and pop the occasional Allegra to combat my itchy left eye. Yup: that’s the extent of my seasonal allergies: an annoyingly itchy left eye.

But Mother Nature can be volatile. She can bring floods and tornadoes. On this morning it is just before a monstrous 1-2 punch of earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Videos of the disaster show the water overpowering everything in its path, making matchsticks of buildings, picking up cars and buses and sweeping them away without slowing. This force of nature is horrifying and Mother Nature can render us dumbstruck with her ferocity and tempestuousness.   She can make us feel so very small, so very helpless.

On this morning, I don’t think of her destructive power. It’s a calm day, the morning light soft, the sky a bright blue. I hear the birds singing and the air is scented with the perfume of the warming earth. I see nothing but her quiet beauty and gentle loveliness. I keep running toward home, my shadow stretched long in the rising sun.